On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

Revamp the force to restore its image

We are not talking about isolated cases involving rape or
murder in basement car parks, apartments or dark places but petty crimes –
which seem to have increased in recent years – within our midst.

Worse, when police reports are made, the victims are sometimes told that very
little can be done because the chances are slim in arresting the culprit and
recovering the stolen item. These are not very encouraging words from the

There are plenty of reasons why the image of our police force has taken a
knock. In all fairness, our police officers have performed well in solving
serious crimes and have done splendidly in keeping Malaysia peaceful.

But they score few points when it comes to combating crime, which affects most

While the number of cases last year dropped to 149,042 from 156,469 in 2001,
most Malaysians still do not feel they are living in a safer environment or
that our police are doing a good job.

The public perception is that there are many corrupt policemen in the force.
When they see a motorist being stopped by policemen by the roadside, the first
thing that enters the mind of Malaysians is the mata-mata will likely ask for
money to settle a traffic offence, even though they are checking the identity
of the motorist for anti-crime purposes.

That's how bad the image of the police force is. The rakyat, sad to say, also
think that our policemen are indifferent to public needs.

Complaints to the Prime Minister's Office have also come from investors,
particularly the large Taiwanese community here, who are upset by the declining
quality of law and order in Malaysia.

That, of course, makes it difficult to sell Malaysia as a safe place for
investment. If we want foreigners to study in Malaysia, parents must be
convinced that it is safe for their children to stay here.

Rather than moan and groan about the sad state of affairs, Prime Minister Datuk
Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi has taken the right step in ordering the setting up
of a Royal Commission of Inquiry.

He has heard plentiful stories about the force and as Home Minister – the
police are under his command – he must look into overhauling it. First, he
needs to know what has gone wrong.

The setting up of the commission reflects the Government's full commitment
toward rehabilitating the image of the force and restoring public confidence in

The review, Abdullah said, would involve police procedures to meet present
needs and fulfil public expectations.

Graft among police personnel could affect the integrity of the whole force and
thus all complaints of bribery involving its members must be investigated
speedily, thoroughly and fairly.

The new Inspector-General of Police Datuk Seri Mohd Bakri Omar, I am given to
understand, is known for his serious commitment to discipline and fighting
graft. He will certainly be of great help to Abdullah in giving the police
force a new image.

Bakri has responded speedily to the need to beef up the force by asking for
6,000 CID officers and has drawn up a crime-prevention plan.

But it must be emphasised that the commission is not on a fault-finding mission
but a fact-finding one. We must know what has gone wrong, in a fair and
objective manner, for us to rectify the mistakes.

For example, we must look into the welfare of our policemen. Their salaries,
among the lowest in the region, need to be looked into.

If the salaries are attractive, we will get good, qualified and educated people
entering the force. It will go a long way in fighting corruption and instilling

The force must also seriously consider expanding the size of its volunteer unit.
Unlike Singapore where policing is part of its national service, Malaysia
relies entirely on full-timers.

A bigger volunteer corps can help increase the number of beat patrols. Our
policemen alone cannot walk all the neighbourhoods.

The presence of policemen in uniform is always a deterrent in fighting crime.
Now we find many empty police pondok probably because of manpower shortage.

Using volunteers will also attract more Chinese and Indians to join the force,
as many have done through Rela and other civil defence corps.

More police cadet units should be set up in schools to instil the love for the
police force and keeping Malaysia safe. This is one area where the Malaysian
Crime Prevention Society, the police and the Education Ministry could help out.